1/24/16 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
HHH Wins Royal Rumble Match to Become WWE Champion
It has become an annual tradition for fans to be extremely excited about the Royal Rumble and extremely disappointed in the outcome. The last four winners- Sheamus, John Cena, Batista, and Roman Reigns- were all booed when they won, outside of any storyline heat. This year appeared to be shaping up along a similar trajectory as Roman Reigns overcame a gang attack to make it into the final four while a smarky Orlando crowd soured on him. The script changed, though, and the unannounced #30 entrant HHH finally tossed Dean Ambrose to win the match and capture his 14th title.
There were plenty of notable moments in the Rumble before HHH made his entrance. Rusev joined Reigns at the start of the match and Reigns surprisingly eliminated him almost immediately. The next entrant was the debuting AJ Styles who got a tremendous reaction throughout the night and finished with the fourth longest stint in the match. Chris Jericho entered sixth and lasted for over 50 minutes despite being one of the most senior competitors in the match. Kofi Kingston’s annual Rumble stunt was a ride around the ring on Big E’s shoulders.
The Wyatt Family entered through the teens and early 20s and ganged up to dominate the match. Brock Lesnar tried to take out all four of them and successfully eliminated Luke Harper, Braun Strowman, and Erick Rowan, only for the three of them to return and take him out en masse. The battle would seem to set the stage for some sort of Wrestlemania showdown with Lesnar and the Wyatts. The final four came down to Reigns, Ambrose, HHH, and Sheamus. Reigns quickly eliminated Sheamus and HHH took out Reigns in the first real surprise of the match. Ambrose and HHH had more of a fight than I anticipated before HHH pulled Ambrose over the top rope to the floor.
I was in the crowd at Backlash 2008, where HHH beat JBL, Randy Orton, and John Cena for his 13th World Title. It seemed a foregone conclusion at that time that HHH would catch and pass Ric Flair’s all-time record of 16. For nearly eight years, HHH remained a major player in WWE without a title reign. It appeared that he was keeping some distance between himself and Flair in case he needed to return as a champion in case of emergency. Wit Seth Rollins, Cena, Orton, and many others on the shelf and HHH prominently involved in the Reigns storyline, now is the perfect time for him to cash in a late-career title run. A HHH-Reigns main event for the title has the cache that a Wrestlemania main event needs, and the story behind it is already very intriguing.
As usual, the match gave us several other signals toward potential Wrestlemania feuds. I’m skeptical of a Lesnar-Wyatt Family angle because I simply don’t have much interest in a four-on-one match. If WWE comes up with a more straightforward version, it could be the type of star-making turn that finally takes Bray Wyatt to the next level. Dean Ambrose remained in a very elevated spot on the card with his Last Man Standing victory over Kevin Owens and his run to the last pair of the Rumble. He has lots of potential Wrestlemania directions and they are all interesting. There were also hints of possible matchups between Owens and the returning Sami Zayn and Jericho and Styles. The Wrestlemania slots vacated by injured stars appear to be destined for some fun developments.
Dean Ambrose def. Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing Match to Retain the Intercontinental Title
Given the work in no-DQ matches that both Ambrose and Owens did before they got to WWE, this match had a lot of promise. It was a bit of a surprise that it went on to start the show rather than in the quasi-main event slot immediately before the Rumble. In any case, they did a fantastic job of pacing the match in a way that did not render the referee’s ten counts boring or disruptive. Owens and Ambrose also showed good chemistry, countering each other’s signature moves and chaining them together in interesting ways.
Owens nearly won the match twice- first when he caught a suicide dive and rammed Ambrose into the apron, and again when he countered a superplex with his super fisherman-buster through a table. Ambrose continued to stagger to his feet and even made it up after a Pop-Up Powerbomb. Owens climbed the ropes to attempt a moonsault to Ambrose on a pile of chairs, but Ambrose shoved Owens to the outside where he crashed through two tables stacked on top of one another. That was enough to keep Owens down and give Ambrose the decisive win that likely ends their memorable feud.
New Day def. The Usos to Retain the Tag Team Titles
New Day’s pre-match promo and Xavier Woods’s work at ringside with Franceska II were both highlights of this match. That’s not to say that the wrestling itself was poor, but New Day is so charismatic that they manage to stand out when they aren’t even wrestling. Kofi and Jey Uso had one of the more interesting spots of the night when they tangled their legs together while both going for superkicks. Kingston turned it into a takedown and Big E splashed Jey on the back. Big E overcame a couple of Samoan Drops and blindly tagged himself in. He caught a Superfly Splash and turned it into a Big Ending to pick up the victory. As usual, the Usos worked a tag match that was much better than it had any business being given how predictable and repetitive most of the build-up was.
Kalisto def. Alberto Del Rio to Become US Champion
I have long believed that one’s views on Del Rio’s work have a lot to do with whether his awkwardness is viewed as part of the simulated fight or just sloppiness. If he and Kalisto were trying to make this match look like a real fight, there were times when they definitely achieved that. Kalisto took a nasty fall and Del Rio hit him with several moves that almost looked a bit too snug. Del Rio reached the ropes after an SDS, but ate an exposed turnbuckle shortly after. Kalisto hit a second SDS and got the pin to win the US Title for a second time this month. Looking at the rest of the card, it was unlikely that the only babyface winner would be the opening match, so Kalisto became a more logical pick. Moreover, if Kalisto is going to become a sympathetic underdog, there’s no better time to test him in that role when a huge number of popular babyfaces are injured.
Charlotte def. Becky Lynch to Retain the Divas Title
While the PPV as a whole largely avoided any letdown, this match had the most elements that one could dislike. Ric Flair grabbed Becky early on and gave her a kiss as a way to distract her, which is a very outdated way to market women’s wrestling. Becky and Charlotte went back and forth for several minutes that was probably the best stretch of wrestling in Charlotte’s title run. The booking got screwy again near the end, though. Charlotte missed a baseball slide on Becky and hit her dad on the apron. Becky applied the Disarmer and Flair threw his blazer over her head. She went after Flair, which allowed Charlotte to hit a Spear to get the pin.
The storyline shenanigans were quickly forgotten because Sasha Banks returned from her mini-absence to interrupt the celebration. She first attacked Becky and threw her to the floor. She briefly celebrated with Charlotte before she put her in the Banks Statement to a raucous ovation. Fans wondered why Sasha was held off of TV for the last several weeks. It makes sense to build some anticipation for her return just in time to reignite her rivalry with Charlotte for Wrestlemania.